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Hutsell v. Hawkins

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

June 17, 2019

HYDEE HAWKINS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Charles Hutsell is an inmate at FCI - McKean in Lewis Run, Pennsylvania. Proceeding without an attorney, Hutsell filed a civil rights complaint against an Assistant United States Attorney, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and a Kentucky State Police detective. DE #1 (Complaint). The Court granted Hutsell's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, see DE #7, and now screens his Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2). Because relevant Supreme Court precedent bars Hutsell's claims, the Court dismisses the Complaint in its entirety.


         Hutsell pleaded guilty in 2010 to two counts of cocaine base distribution (one count involving five or more grams), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). See United States v. Hutsell, No. 5:10-cr-078-JMH-20 (E.D. Ky. 2010) at DE #332 (Rearraignment Minutes). Then-presiding Judge Forester sentenced Hutsell to 144 months in prison, all per the plea agreement. See Id. at DE #459 (Judgment); see also Id. at DE #333 (Plea Agreement). The case was later reassigned to Judge Hood, id. at DE #675, who (in 2015) partially granted Hutsell's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion and reduced Hutsell's sentence of incarceration to 120 months based on intervening Fair Sentencing Act changes.[1] See Id. at DE #745 (Order granting partial § 2255 relief); id. at DE #746 (Amended Judgment). Judge Hood denied § 2255 relief on all other asserted grounds. Id. at DE #762 (Order).


         Hutsell claims that AUSA Hawkins, ATF Agent Putman, and KSP Detective Kirkland committed “fraud on the court” and “engaged in a pattern of fraudulent, misleading discovery and unconstitutional and illegal conduct by ‘manufacturing evidence' and ‘lying' under oath in federal court, resulting in their arrest of Plaintiff and obtaining judgment in their favor in the district court.” DE #1 at 3. Hutsell further claims that Defendants improperly arrested him without a warrant. See Id. at 3-4.[2] Hutsell seeks both damages and a “preliminary and permanent injunction ordering [Defendants] to cease judgment under [criminal] Case Number #10-78.” Id. at 5. Functionally, Hutsell attempts to collaterally attack the validity of his criminal judgment via § 1983 and seeks to obtain monetary damages in the process.

         The in forma pauperis statute provides that a court “shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); accord § 1915A(b)(1). Hutsell's Complaint fails to state a cognizable claim for relief. Section 1983 is not an appropriate vehicle to challenge a conviction or sentence. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 1841 (1973) (holding that, if a prisoner is “challenging the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus”). And, “to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff” must first demonstrate that “the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck v. Humphrey, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 2372 (1994); see also Robinson v. Jones, 142 F.3d 905, 907 (6th Cir. 1998) (clarifying that Heck applies to Bivens actions). The Heck Court expressed continuing reluctance “to expand opportunities for collateral attack, ” id. at 2371, and recognized that “the hoary principle that civil tort actions are not appropriate vehicles for challenging the validity of outstanding criminal judgments applies to § 1983 damages actions that necessarily require the plaintiff to prove the unlawfulness of his conviction or confinement, ” id. at 2372. In sum: “A [§ 1983] claim challenging confinement must be dismissed regardless of whether the plaintiff seeks injunctive or monetary relief[, ]” absent prior invalidation of the underlying criminal judgment. Adams v. Morris, 90 Fed.Appx. 856, 858 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Heck, 114 S.Ct. at 2373-74, and Preiser, 93 S.Ct. at 1836-37).

         Hutsell's allegations-that Defendants manufactured evidence, lied under oath, and arrested him without a warrant, all leading to his convictions-would necessarily call into question the validity of his criminal judgment, if substantiated.[3] Yet, Plaintiff has not shown (and the Court has not independently located any information indicating) that Hutsell's convictions or sentence have been overturned or invalidated. Indeed, Judge Hood limited relief to a resentencing, otherwise fully denying Hutsell's § 2255 motion. Thus, neither may Hutsell collaterally challenge the constitutionality of his criminal convictions or sentence, nor (given Heck) may he pursue related monetary damages, via § 1983.


         Hutsell cannot use § 1983 to challenge the validity of his criminal judgment, and he has not shown its prior invalidation as required to seek monetary damages per Heck. Consequently, the Complaint fails to state a claim on which the Court can grant relief at this time. See Hunt v. Michigan, 482 Fed.Appx. 20, 22 (6th Cir. 2012) (affirming dismissal of a Heck-barred complaint for failure to state a claim); accord Morris v. Cason, 102 Fed.Appx. 902, 903 (6th Cir. 2004).

         Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES the Complaint (DE #1), without prejudice. A corresponding Judgment follows.



[1] Hutsell entered a binding plea to Counts 5 and 6 of the Third Superseding Indictment (DE #308); Count 5 carried a maximum imprisonment term of 30 years, and Count 6 carried a minimum of ten years. Hutsell agreed to 144 months, given the then-applicable mandatory 240-month minimum on the Count 1 charge against Hutsell. Considering the Fair Sentencing Act's changes, however, the United States advocated for a reduction to 120 months “in order to give Hutsell the benefit of no longer being subject to a statutory minimum sentence of 240 months ...

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